The costumes came easily when Donald Brooks started designing clothes for the movie "The Bell Jar," the Sylvia Plath biographic novel that is set in the mid-1950s at Smith College and in New York (when she briefly had a summer job with a fashion magazine). There were, for starters, the clothes Brooks had designed himself in that period. Then the Fashion Institute of Technology provided some Claire McCardell's so that almost half of the 500 costumes used will be the real thing.
Brooks says the '50s designs are not all that distant from today's fashion crop, except most were stiffer in construction and more fitted, then. For three months, Brooks and his assistant have been scouting thrift shops for clothes and accessories.
"I have a special feeling for Sylvia," says Brooks, who didn't know her. "It's not a clinical designing job but a compassionate one."
Brooks, who has been off seventh Avenue for awhile but made custom clothes for Jean Kennedy Smith, Claudette Colbert, Joan Bennett and others, has plans to be back in the designer sportswear business before long. He is still very successfully creating Maidenform lingerie, furs and a menswear collection.
We were at Smith in the 1950s, so some of the so-called '50s styles confuse us. Note to Donald Brooks -- the rule on shorts at Smith was "two inches" (nothing could be more than two inches above the knee). And forget the scene in the French movie "The First Time" where the woman whips off her blouse and there is nothing underneath. Sorry, it never occurred to any of us to go braless in those days -- that was a decade later.
Also, we can't quite remember any capri pants made of black leather in the '50s like the ones worn by Olivia Newton-John in "Grease."
Sneaker peaks. Last year we scouted the largest collection of Chemise Lacostes (alligator shirts) in Washington. This year we've researched sneakers. One contender for the prize -- Bruce Robinson, one of the owners of Racquet & Jog, who owns 30 pairs of athletic shoes, saves one pair for dressy occasions since he never wears anything else.And the largest sneaker ever made? It's a size-22 basketball shoe made for Bob Lanier by Converse. But then Converse includes size 17 in their regular run of sneaker sizes.
But some people are piqued about sneaks. So the so-called "snob" night spots won't permit sneakers or athletic shoes on the premises. We've had several complaint calls and were especially intrigued by two callers: one who said one disco stated "no sneakers" until they were told that Andy Warhol might be in the party, and another, an attorney who was turned away from a downtown establishment, despite his respectful appearance, because of his expensive athletic shoes.
Among those places saying "no sneaks" (but shoddy shoes are okay) -- Deja Vu, F. Scotts, The Plum, The Apple Tree and elan. (By the way, other items that elan does not find particularly "dashing," as printed in their "Statement of Club Policies": jeans, men's T-shirts and similar collarless shirts and ladies halter tops, shorts and men's hats.) P.S. Studio 54 regulars, including Disco Sally Lippman and designer Charles Suppon always wear sneakers there.
Barry Schwartz has always picked winners on Seventh Avenue, why not elsewhere? As a child he dreamed of having horses, now he has a stable of 20. Schwartz is the partner of Calvin Klein.
Gentlemen's Quarterly is about to name their choices for top menswear designers -- they say Calvin Klein here, Giorgio Armani in Europe (Milan). The Coty Award ballot on menswear is in the mail, with results to be announced in September. The choices are Charles Suppon, Jean-Paul Germain and Robert Stock. We only wish we could vote for the GQ choices.
HELP. A letter from Sherry Howman asks where she can find a suit or solo jacket with an inner pocket as in men's suits. Now that we've been wearing thrift shop jackets for men, we also know the big advantage in all those pockets. Other than the men's styles, we can only suggest sewing one in yourself, and while you are at it, consider putting a velcro closing on it to keep the pocket contents from falling out when you remove your jacket.
Pierre Cardin scores again. The fashion designer has already mastered the big, big business of licensing his name; his signature includes candy wrappers, furniture, wines, bathroom fixtures, just to name a few besides clothes. He picks up $1 million twice a year for his menswear connection alone in the U.S. Now Cardin has a new move -- backgammon and rummy sets, domino boxes and playing cards. What's the catch? The Cardin logo, and for the cards, a yellow angel for the joker.
Time to list the courses for fall in sewing, design and all things related to fashion. Please send your listing with all specifics by Sept. 1 to Fashion Department, Style Section, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.